I’m usually immune to people’s passing. It does seem though that every case has a slightly different effect. For some bizarre reason Willy Rushton’s death chilled me somewhat, with a sense of sadness one might have expected – if I’d had some special regard for him, or realised I had.
But with Steve Jobs it had the effect of making me want to cringe slightly and look around, almost as if he’d been some kind of protector we’d now have to do without. He was a bulwark against the “This… is what… yer do…” school of culture. Where most are distracted from their true task by convenient contingency, doing what everybody else ends up being misled or bribed into instead of what they’re supposed to be doing, he held true to the central core of the task. Everyone else sticking black and silver knobs and dials all over their stuff to make it look technical? No need, for if the talented designer knows it to be both useful and decorative, it doesn’t need to ‘look’ anything; besides, ‘technical’ should not be treated as desirable. For him, the zen of the thing was not to be lightly tossed aside in the face of jobsworth ‘imperatives’. Oh, and one more thing: less is more. He didn’t understand it – he famously obsessed it. What Greek torture: to be an electronic gadget designer but hate buttons :-S .
Who will now protect us from the 23-year-old engineer who can’t be arsed to code proper error messages or translate from his own concepts to the users’? Who will now hold back the ghastly tsunami of marketing gimmicks and crapware? Who will chase right back to their unspeakable hovels the suppliers whose product simultaneously tells you you’re stupid enough to be convinced by some gesture to cheap pseudo-style, yet expected to have the brains and time to do their technical job for them – or you’re not worth bothering with? Who will give perfectionism a good name, and make designers start from scratch yet again if something’s just not right?
But human culture is copying, so people will at lest ape him, and hopefully his approach will be honoured. Reith lived on (and blessedly his best aspects) in the BBC; Watson’s character suffused IBM decades beyond his death. Indeed, to this day the employees of both exhibit a smugness and feeling of superiority the founders would be proud of, alongside their brand virtues. We must hope, in hope, that Mac-folk will always feel their duty weighing heavily on them, and it may be that other companies will remain similarly inspired:
We all remember where we were when we first heard Joanna Lumley’s blood-curdling Ghurka shriek; in my case the same place as when I heard of Jobs’ death: standing in front of the fridge. And I also remember the announcer’s appalling intonation, as if she ranked Jobs’ demise with anybody’s death… but maybe that was just me.
Written on a Mac.